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Richard Wagner: Lohengrin
11 Apr 2007

WAGNER: Lohengrin

With a label such as Gala, a purveyor of live recordings of various provenance, some adjustment to compromised sound quality can be expected.

Richard Wagner: Lohengrin

Keikki Siukola; Evelyn Brunner; Ekkehard Wlaschihia; Nadine Denize; Byung Woon Kang; Pierre Le Hemonet; Lucien Mertz; Jens Kiertzner; François Richert; Merih Kazbek; Choeur de l’Opera du Rhin; Orchestre Symphonique du Rhin-Mulhouse; Theodor Guschlbauer (cond.)
Live recording: Mulhouse, October 26, 1985

Gala 623 [3CDs]

$16.99  Click to buy

Often enough, that means listening past audience or stage noise captured by poorly directed in-house mics, or distant sound from disintegrating tapes. In the case of this 1985 Lohengrin from Mulhouse, a different accommodation must be made. The sound level has been set painfully high. Listeners can turn down the volume, but that dulls the acoustic. Your reviewer made the adjustment best suited to his hearing, and gladly, because the performance is quite exciting.

The cast list doesn’t boast starry names, but the voices are all suited to their roles. Heikki Siukola gets the lengthiest section of Andrew Palmer’s well-written notes, describing a varied and interesting career. His strong yet sweet voice encompasses the role’s demands, although in a highlight such as “In Fernem land,” some might miss a touch of individuality in expression. Evelyn Brunner’s effective Elsa also lacks that quality, and once or twice one questions if it is the drama or the musical line that is stretching her voice.

As is so often the case, the Ortrud and Telramund steal the show. Nadine Denize, based on this recording, had a large voice, with a secure and potent top. From her very first utterances, Ortrud’s malevolent strength comes through. Ekkehard Wlaschihia matches Denize for intensity.

The Rhin-Mulhouse orchestra is led by Theodor Guschbauer, who does not dilly-dally. This is a Lohengrin that pushes forward with tragic momentum. Gala did well to choose this performance for release, but in their zeal to fill up the third CD with more music, they have broken up the last two acts at awkward places.

The further selections are from a 1977 Bayrischen Staatsoper Don Carlos, with a much more renowned cast than the Wagner. Ruggero Raimondi sings Filippo, Raina Kabaivanska is his wife, Franco Tagliavini, his son Carlos, and Renato Bruson sings as Carlos’s friend Posa. Nadine Denize is the connection to the Wagner; all the selections, about 40 minutes worth, feature her. Denize’s Eboli is as powerful as her Ortrud, though unsurprisingly her large instrument feels just a bit unwieldy in the “Veil song.”

Unfortunately, conductor Francesco Molinari-Pradelli’s leaden pulse and dull rhythms makes this performance much less than its cast promises. Buy the set for the dynamic, urgent Lohengrin, but be careful with the volume.

Chris Mullins

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